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5 Things to Do Before You Divorce in the State of North Carolina

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Divorce in North Carolina can be confusing. Before clients initiate the divorce process, we want them to understand the fundamentals. In order to obtain an absolute divorce in North Carolina, an individual needs to have lived in the state for six months, in addition, to have lived separately from his or her spouse for a full year before the divorce can be finalized. Knowing that they have exhausted all other options before resorting to divorce sometimes puts clients in a better mental and emotional state to cope with the challenges that lie ahead.

The following five steps are specific to North Carolina divorce and must be completed before an individual is allowed to initiate the divorce process:

1. TALK TO A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL.

Even those who don’t possess any hope about saving their marriage can benefit from “divorce counseling.” It can help them discover what went wrong, how to cope, and how to move on in a healthy way. Look for verified directories and resources to find a licensed therapist that addresses your specific needs; for example, Psychology Today offers an easily searchable online directory. Human resources or social and religious contacts may also prove useful in finding a counselor.

2. TALK TO AN ATTORNEY FIRST.

Even if individuals don’t end up hiring an attorney to handle their separation or divorce, they should get as much information as possible before discussing divorce with their spouse. NC divorce laws are complex and even a seemingly straightforward situation can be very confusing to families already in distress. Clients may not realize how significantly their initial actions affect the outcome of their divorce. Understanding the various options and their consequences on the front end means that clients are better able to make informed decisions they won’t later regret.

3. DO NOT MOVE OUT OF THE MARITAL HOME WITHOUT TALKING TO AN ATTORNEY FIRST.

Many clients don’t realize that leaving the house without a good reason may cause them to pay alimony or may result in their inability to collect alimony once the divorce is finalized. Furthermore, if a spouse does leave the house, they may be unable to return until after a court divides the property. This process takes more than a year. The best advice we give our clients is to stay in the house until after they have spoken with us. There is one very important exception to this rule: If an individual has a violent spouse, they must take all necessary steps to protect themselves and their children (if applicable).

4. TALK TO A LAWYER BEFORE DISCUSSING ANY EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIRS WITH A SPOUSE OR OTHER CONFIDANT.  

Honesty is always the best policy—but when it comes to disclosure about an extramarital affair, clients must be aware of whom they choose to tell and how they choose to share that information. Admission of an affair can end up costing some individuals thousands in additional alimony payments. Although an alimony claimant is not required to prove the other spouse is at fault in order to be entitled to post-separation support or alimony, the alimony statute addresses the concept of marital fault and permits a judge to consider evidence of fault in fixing the amount of alimony to be awarded.

5. TAKE CONCRETE STEPS TO SAFEGUARD ASSETS BEFORE DISCUSSING DIVORCE.

First, take possession of certain assets during separation, especially assets a client wants to actively use, for example, furniture and vehicles; and those assets that might be liquidated by their spouse, including precious gems and stones, other collectibles, cash, and bearer bonds.

Next, it is wise for individuals to file what is known as a ‘lis pendens’ at the Deeds Office of any county where they or their spouse own real property. This can be used in any U.S. state and is not limited to North Carolina. The lis pendens is basically a notice of pending litigation that may affect real property. A properly recorded and served lis pendens prevents an effective sale of property behind the back of the individual who files it.

A third possible step to protect the assets of a marriage is to get an injunction restraining a spouse from transferring or otherwise disposing of any property covered by the restraining order. An attorney can also use an injunction to get an individual’s separate property returned to them if their spouse is in possession of property that they refuse to return. North Carolina’s equitable distribution statute also provides a means for individuals to obtain an interim distribution of marital property pending a final resolution of the property matter. Other protective measures that should be taken into consideration include:

1. Protecting personal credit rating by freezing or closing joint cards and by blocking access to other joint credit such as a home equity loan.

2. Closing joint bank accounts and opening accounts in one’s own, individual name.

3. Changing the name of the responsible party on utility and other bills.

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